Ecclesiam suam EN 41


41 We are taken up by the desire to see the Church of God become what Christ wants her to be, one, holy, and entirely dedicated to the pursuit of perfection to which she is effectively called. Perfect as she is in the ideal conception of her Divine Founder, the Church should tend towards becoming perfect in the real expression of her earthly existence. This is the great moral problem which is uppermost in the life of the Church, a problem which reveals what she is, stimulates her, accuses her, and sustains her.

This search for perfection fills her with groanings and prayers, with repentance and hope, with strength and confidence, with responsibility and merits. It is a problem inherent in those theological realities which give meaning to our human life.

Without reference to the teachings of Christ and to the magisterium of the Church it is impossible to pass judgment on man. We cannot judge his nature, his primeval perfection, the ruinous consequences of original sin, man's capacities for good, his need for help to desire and achieve what is good, the meaning of the present life and his final end. We cannot judge those values which man desires or controls, the criterion of perfection and sanctity, and means and ways of enriching life with the highest beauty and fullness.

A strong desire to know the ways of Christ is and ought to remain ever present in the Church, and its discussion must always be fruitful and varied. As regards the questions having to do with perfection, fresh nourishment is provided in the Church from century to century. We should therefore like to see the unique interest which the life of Christ deserves reawakened, not so much for the sake of elaborating new theories as for generating new energies. They should be used for acquiring that sanctity which Christ teaches. His example, His Word, His grace, and His method sustained by ecclesiastical tradition, strengthened by divine action and exemplified in the lives of the saints make it possible for us to know, desire and to follow the path of sanctity.

42 In the pursuit of spiritual and moral perfection the Church receives an exterior stimulus from the conditions in which she lives. She cannot remain unaffected by or indifferent to the changes that take place in the world around.

This world exerts its influences on the Church in a thousand ways and places conditions on her daily conduct. The Church, as everyone knows, is not separated from the world, but lives in it. Hence, the members of the Church are subject to its influence; they breathe its culture, accept its laws and absorb its customs.

This imminent contact of the Church with temporal society continually creates for her a problematic situation, which today has become extremely difficult. On the one hand Christian life, as defended and promoted by the Church, must always take great care lest it should be deceived, profaned or stifled as it must strive to render itself immune from the contagion of error and of evil.

On the other hand, Christian life should not only be adapted to the forms of thought and custom which the temporal environment offers and imposes on her, provided they are compatible with the basic exigencies of her religious and moral program, but ti should also try to draw close to them, to purify them, to ennoble them, to vivify and to sanctify them. This task demands of the Church a perennial examination of her moral vigilance, which our time demands with a particular urgency and exceptional seriousness.

43 Also from this point of view the celebration of the Council is providential. The pastoral character which it has assumed, the practical objectives of renewing canonical discipline, the desire to make the practice of Christian life as easy as possible in conformity with its supernatural character--all these factors confer on the Council an especial merit even at this moment when we are still awaiting the major part of its deliberations.

In fact it awakens in pastors as well as in the faithful the desire to preserve and increase in Christian life its character of supernatural authenticity and reminds all of their duty of effectively and deeply imprinting that character n their own personal conduct, thus leading the weak to be good, the good to be better, the better to be generous, and the generous to be holy. It gives rise to new expressions of sanctity, urges love to be genial, and evokes fresh outpourings of virtue and Christian heroism.

44 Naturally, it will be for the Council to suggest what reforms are to be introduced in the legislation of the Church. The post-conciliar commissions, especially the one instituted for the revision of Canon Law and already nominated by us will formulate in concrete terms the deliberations of the ecumenical synod.

However, it will be your task, Venerable Brothers, to indicate to us the means by which to render the face of our Holy Church spotless and youthful.

But let our determination to bring about such a reform be once again made manifest. How many times in centuries past has this resolve been associated with the history of the councils, and so let it be, once more. But this time it is not to remove from the Church any specific heresies or general disorders, which, by the grace of God, do not exist within her today, but rather to infuse fresh spiritual vigor into the Mystical Body of Christ, insofar as it is a visible society, purifying it from the defects of many of its members and stimulating it to new virtue.

45 In order to be able to bring this about with divine help, let us place before you some preliminary considerations suited to facilitate the work of renewal and to instill into it the courage which it requires together with sacrifice, and to indicate here some broad outlines along which the reform could be better effected.

46 And first of all we must establish certain norms according to which this reform is to be effected. This reform cannot concern either the essential conception of the Church or its basic structure. We would be putting the word reform to the wrong use if we were to employ it in that sense. For we cannot level the charge of infidelity against God's holy and beloved Church. We consider it the greatest blessings to be members of it, and it bears witness to us «that we are the children of God." (Rm 8,16) Oh, it is neither pride nor presumption nor obstinacy nor folly but a luminous certitude and our joyous conviction that we are indeed living members of the Body of Christ, that we are the authentic heirs of the Gospel of Christ, those who truly continue the work of the Apostles. There dwells in us the great inheritance of truth and morality characterizing the Catholic Church, which today possesses intact the living heritage of the original apostolic tradition. If all this redounds to our glory, or to use a better expression, the reasons for which we must "always give thanks to God," (Ep 5,20) it also constitutes our responsibility before God Himself to whom we are accountable for so great a benefit and also before the Church, in which we must instill the firm desire and resolution to guard the «deposit" about which St. Paul speaks. (1Tm 6,20) We have a responsibility, also before our brothers who are still separated from us, and before the entire world so that all share with us the Gift of God.

47 Hence, if the term reform can be applied to this subject, it is not to be understood in the sense of change, but of a stronger determination to preserve the characteristic features which Christ has impressed on the Church.

We should rather always wish to lead her back to her perfect form corresponding, on the one hand, to her original design and on the other fully consistent with the necessary development which like a seed grown into a tree has given to the Church her legitimate and concrete form in history.

Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that the edifice of the Church which has now become large and majestic for the glory of God as His magnificent temple, should be reduced to its early minimal proportions as if they alone were true and good. Nor should we be fascinated by the desire of renewing the structure of the Church through the charismatic way as if that ecclesiastical expression were new and good which sprang from particular ideas, zealous no doubt and sometimes even claiming their origin from divine inspiration, thus introducing an arbitrary scheme of artificial renewal in the very constitution of the Church.

We must serve the Church and love her as she is, with a clear understanding of history, and humbly searching for the will of God who assists and guides her even when at times He permits human weakness to eclipse the purity of her features and the beauty of her action. It is this purity and beauty which we are endeavoring to discover and promote.

48 We must deepen within us these convictions if we are to avoid the other danger which the desire for reform can produce not only in us pastors, who are held back by a watchful sense of responsibility, but also in the many faithful who think that the reform of the Church should consist primarily in adapting its sentiments and habits to those of the world.

The fascination of worldly life today is very powerful indeed. Conformity appears to many as an inescapable and wise course. Those who are not well rooted in Faith and in the observance of Ecclesiastical Law easily think that the time has come for concessions to be made to secular norms of life, as if these were better and as if the Christian can and must make them his own.

This phenomenon of adaptation is noticeable in the philosophical field (how much fashion counts even in the world of thought, which ought to be autonomous and free and only avid and docile before truth and the authority of approved masters!), as well as in the practical field, where it is becoming more and more uncertain and difficult to point out the line of moral rectitude and right conduct.

49 Naturalism threatens to render null and void the original conception of Christianity. Relativism, which justifies everything and treats all things as of equal value, assails the absolute character of Christian principles. The tendency of throwing overboard every restrain and inconvenience from the conduct of life finds the discipline of Christian asceticism burdensome and futile.

Sometimes even the apostolic desire of approaching the secular milieu or of making oneself acceptable to modern mentality, especially that of youth, leads up to a rejection of the forms proper to Christian life and even of its very dignity, which must give meaning and strength to this eagerness for approach and educative influence. Is it not perhaps true that often the young clergy or indeed even some zealous Religious moved by the good intention of penetrating the masses or particular groups, tend to get mixed up with them instead of remaining apart, thus sacrificing the true efficacy of their apostolate to some sort of useless imitation?

The great principle enunciated by Christ presents itself again both in its actuality and in its difficulty: To be in the world, and not of the world. It is good for us even today to offer up that highest and most opportune prayer of Christ "who always lives and intercedes for us": (
He 7,25) "I am not asking that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them clear of what is evil." (Jn 17,15)

50 However it is not our intention to say that perfection consists in remaining changeless as regards external forms which the Church through many centuries has assumed. Nor does it consist in being stubbornly opposed to those new forms and habits which are commonly regarded as acceptable and suited to the character of our times.

The word aggiornamento, rendered famous by our predecessor of happy memory, John XXIII, should always be kept in mind as our program of action. We have confirmed t as the guiding criterion of the Ecumenical Council. We want to recall it to mind as a stimulus to preserve the perennial vitality of the Church, her continuous awareness and ability to study the signs of the times and her constantly youthful agility in "scrutinizing it all carefully and retaining only what is good" (

51 But let us repeat it once again for our common admonition and profit: The Church will rediscover her renewed youthfulness not so much by changing her exterior laws as by interiorly assimilating her true spirit of obedience to Christ and accordingly by observing those laws which the Church prescribes for herself with the intention of following Christ.

Here is the secret of her renewal, here her "metanoia," here her exercise of perfection. Even though the Church's law might be made easier to observe by the simplification of some of its precepts and by placing confidence in the liberty of the modern Christian, with his greater knowledge of his duties and his greater maturity and wisdom in choosing the means to fulfill them, the law, nevertheless, retains its essential binding force.

The Christian life, which the Church interprets and sets down in wise regulations, will always require faithfulness, effort, mortification and sacrifice; it will always bear the mark of the «narrow way" of which Our Lord speaks to us; (Cf.
Mt 7,13 ss) it will require not less moral energy of us modern Christians than it did of Christians in the past, but perhaps more. It will call for a prompt obedience, no less binding today than in the past, that will be, perhaps, more difficult, and certainly more meritorious in that it is guided more by supernatural motives than natural ones.

It is not conformity to the spirit of the world, not immunity from the discipline of reasonable asceticism, not indifference to the laxity of modern behavior, not emancipation from the authority of prudent and lawful superiors, not apathy with regard to the contradictory forms of modern thought, that can give vigor to the Church, or make her fit to receive the influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or render her following of Christ more genuine, or give her the anxious yearning of fraternity charity and the ability to community her message. These things come from her aptitude to live according to divine grace, her faithfulness to the Gospel of the Lord, her hierarchical and communal unity. The Christian is not soft and cowardly, he is strong and faithful.

52 We realize how long this letter would be if we were to indicate even the main lines of the modern program of the Christian life; and we do not intend to enter into such an undertaking now. You, moreover, know what the moral needs of our time are, and you will not cease to call the faithful to an understanding of the dignity, purity and austerity of the Christian life, nor will you fail to denounce, as best you can, and even publicly, the moral dangers and vices from which are age is suffering.

We all remember the solemn exhortations which Holy Scripture addresses to us: "I know of all thy doings, all thy toil and endurance; how little patience thou hast with wickedness." (
Ap 2,2) And all of us will strive to be watchful and diligent pastors. The Council is to give to us, too, new and salutary instructions, and all of us must certainly prepare ourselves now to hear them and carry them out.

53 But we do not wish to forego commenting briefly on two points, which we consider to concern principal needs and duties and which can provide matter for reflection on the general lines of the renewal of ecclesiastical life.

54 We refer first of all to the spirit of poverty. We consider that it was so proclaimed in the Holy Gospel, that it is so much a part of the plan of our destination to the Kingdom of God. It is so much in danger because of the great store the modern mind sets by possessions, that it is so necessary to help us to understand so many of our weaknesses and failures in the past and to show us what our way of life should be and what is the best way to announce the Religion of Christ to souls. And, finally, it is so difficult to practice it as we ought, that we presume to mention it explicitly in this our message. We do this, not because we have the intention of issuing special canonical regulations on the subject, but rather to ask of you, Venerable Brethren, the comfort of your agreement, your counsel and your example.

We look to you as the authoritative voice, which interprets the better impulses by which the Spirit of Christ manifests itself in the Church, to tell us how pastors and people ought to adapt their language and conduct to poverty alone. As the Apostles admonishes us, "yours is to be the same mind which Christ Jesus showed." (
Ph 2,5) We look to you to say how we should, together, propose for the life of the Church those directives which must base our confidence more upon the help of God and the goods of the spirit than upon temporal means. These must remind us, and teach the world, that spiritual goods take precedence over economic goods, and that we should limit and subordinate the possession and use of the later insofar as they are useful for the right exercise of our Apostolic Mission.

55 The brevity of this allusion to the nobility and necessity of the spirit of poverty which characterizes the Gospel of Christ, does not exempt us from our duty of remarking that this spirit does not prevent us from understanding and making lawful use of economic reality. This has assumed an enormous and far-reaching importance in the development of modern civilization, particularly in its consequences for society. We consider, indeed, that the inner freedom which is derived from the spirit of evangelical poverty makes us more sensitive to, and more capable of understanding the human aspects of economic questions, by applying to wealth and to the progress it can effect the just and often severe standard of judgment that they require, by giving to indigence our most solicitous and generous attention, and finally, by expressing the wish that economic goods be not the source of conflicts, of selfishness and of pride among men, but that they be used in justice and equity for the common good and, accordingly, distributed with greater foresight.

Whatever concerns these economic goods--goods inferior to those that are spiritual and eternal, but necessary in this present life--find in the man who has studied the Gospel the capacity needed to form a wise scale of values and to cooperate in projects beneficial to mankind. Science, technology and, particularly labor become the object of our keenest interest. The bread which they produce becomes sacred for table and for altar.

The social teachings of the Church leave no doubt on this subject, and we are pleased to take this opportunity of reaffirming our close adherence to such salutary teachings.

56 The other point we should like to mention is that of the spirit of charity. But is not this subject already in the forefront of your minds? Is not charity the focal point of the religious economy of the Old Testament and New? Is it not to charity that the progress of spiritual experience in the Church leads? May it not be that charity is the ever more illuminating and joyful discover that theology, on the one hand, and piety, on the other, are making in the never-ending meditation on the scriptural and sacramental treasures of which the Church is heir, guardian, mistress and dispenser?

We consider, with our predecessors, with the bright company of saints which our age has given to the Church on earth and in heaven, and with the devout instinct of the faithful, that charity should assume today its rightful position, that is, the first and the highest, in the scale of religious and moral values. Not only should this be in theoretical estimation, but also by being put into practice in the Christian life. Let this be so of the charity towards God, which His charity poured out upon us, and true also of the charity which in return we should display towards our neighbors, that is to say, the human race. Charity explains all things. Charity inspires all things. Charity makes all things possible. Charity renews all things. Charity "sustains, believes, hopes, endures to the last." (
1Co 13,7) Who is there among us who does not know these things? And, if we know them, is not this, perhaps, the hour of charity?

57 This vision of humble and profound Christian perfection leads our thoughts to Mary Most Holy, for she reflects this vision more perfectly and wonderfully in herself; she lived it on earth and now in heaven she rejoices in its glory and beatitude. Devotion to Mary is happily flourishing in the Church today; and we, on this occasion, gladly turn our thoughts to her to admire in the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Christ (and therefore, the Mother of God and the Mother of us) the model of Christian perfection, the mirror of true virtues, the pride of true humanity.

We regard devotion to Mary as a source of Gospel teaching. In our pilgrimage to the Holy Land we wished to learn the lesson of real Christianity from her, the most blessed, lovable, humble and immaculate creature, whose privilege it was to give to the Word of God human flesh in its pristine and innocent beauty. To her now we turn our imploring gaze as to a loving mistress of life, while we discuss with you, Venerable Brethren, the spiritual and moral regeneration of the life of Holy Church.

III. The Dialogue

58 There is a third attitude which the Catholic Church should adopt at this period in the history of the world, an attitude characterized by study of the contacts which the Church ought to maintain with humanity. If the Church acquires an ever-growing awareness of itself, and if the Church tries to model itself on the ideal which Christ proposes to it, the result is that the Church becomes radically different from the human environment in which it, of course, lives or which it approaches.

59 The Gospel makes us recognize such a distinction when it speaks to us of "the world," i.e., of humanity opposed both to the light of faith and to the gift of grace, of humanity which exalts itself in a naive optimism which believes that its own energies suffice to give man complete, lasting, and beneficient self-expression. Or, finally, of humanity which plunges itself into a crude form of pessimism which declares its own vices, weaknesses and moral ailments to be fatal, incurable, and perhaps even desirable as manifestations of freedom and of authenticity.

The Gospel, which recognizes, denounces, pities and cures human misfortunes with penetrating and sometimes with heart-rending sincerity, does not yield to any illusions about the natural goodness of man (as if he were sufficient unto himself and as if he needed nothing else than to be left free to express himself according to his whims), nor to any despairing resignation to the incurable corruption of human nature.

The Gospel is light, it is newness, it is energy, it is rebirth, it is salvation. Hence, it both creates and and defines a type of new life, about which the New Testament teaches us a continuous and remarkable lesson which is expressed in the warning of St. Paul: «You must not fall in with the manners of this world; there must be an inward change, a remaking of your minds, so that you can satisfy yourselves which is God's will, the good thing, the desirable thing, the perfect thing." (
Rm 12,2)

60 This distinction between the life of the Christian and the life of the worldling also derives from the reality and from the consequent recognition of the sanctification produced in us by our sharing in the paschal mystery and, above all, in holy baptism, which, as was said above, is and ought to be considered a true rebirth. Again St. Paul reminds us of this truth: "We who were taken up into Christ by baptism have been taken up, all of us, into His death. In our baptism, we have been buried with Him, died like Him, that is, just as Christ was raised up by His Father's power from the dead, we too might live and move in a new kind of existence." (Rm 6,3-4)

61 It will not be amiss if the Christian of today keeps always in view his original and wondrous form of life which should not only sustain him with the happiness that results from his dignity but also protect him from an environment which threatens him with the contagion of human wretchedness and with the seduction of human glory.

62 See how St. Paul himself formed the Christians of the primitive church: "You must not consent to be yokefellows with unbelievers. What has innocence to do with lawlessness? What is there in common between light and darkness? How can a believer throw in his lot with an infidel?" (2Co 6,14-15) Christian education will always have to remind the student today of his privileged position and of his resultant duty to live in the world but not in the way of the world, according to the above-mentioned prayer of Jesus for His disciples: "I am not asking that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them clear of what is evil. They do not belong to the world, as I, too, do not belong to the world." (Jn 17,15-16) And the Church adopts this prayer as its own.

63 But this distinction is not a separation. Neither is it indifference or fear or contempt. When the Church distinguishes itself from human nature, it does not oppose itself to human nature, but rather unites itself to it. Just as the doctor who, realizing the danger inherent in a contagious disease, not only tries to protect himself and others from such infection, but also dedicates himself to curing those who have been stricken, so too the Church does not make an exclusive privilege of the mercy which the divine goodness has shown it, nor does it distort its own good fortune into a reason for disinterest in those who have not shared it. Rather in its own salvation it finds an argument for interest in and for love for anyone who is either close to it and can at least be approached through universal effort to share its blessings.

64 If, as we said before, the Church has a true realization of what the Lord wishes it to be, then within the Church there arises a unique sense of fullness and a need for outpouring, together with the clear awareness of a mission which transcends the Church, of a message to be spread. It is the duty of evangelization. It is the missionary mandate. It is the apostolic commission.

An attitude of preservation of the faith is insufficient. Certainly we must preserve and also defend the treasure of truth and of grace which has come to us by way of inheritance from the Christian tradition. "Keep safe what has been entrusted to thee," warns St. Paul. (
1Tm 6,20) But neither the preservation nor the defense of the faith exhausts the duty of the Church in regard to the gifts which it possesses.

The duty consonant with the patrimony received from Christ is that of spreading, offering, announcing it to others. Well do we know that "going, therefore, make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28,19) is the last command of Christ to His Apostles. By the very term
«apostles" these men define their inescapable mission. To this internal drive of charity which tends to become the external gift of charity we will give the name of dialogue, which has in these days come into common usage.

65 The Church should enter into dialogue with the world in which it exists and labors. The Church has something to say; the Church has a message to deliver; the Church has a communication to offer.

66 It is no secret that this important facet of the contemporary life of the Church will be specially and fully studied by the Ecumenical Council, and we have no desire to undertake the concrete examination of the themes involved in such today, in order to leave to Fathers of the Council full freedom in discussing them. We wish only to invite you, Venerable Brethren, to preface such study with certain considerations in order that we see more clearly the motives which impel the Church toward the dialogue, the methods to be followed, and the goals to be achieved. We wish to give, not full treatment to topics, but proper disposition to hearts.

67 Nor can we do otherwise in our conviction that the dialogue ought to characterize our Apostolic Office, heirs as we are of such a pastoral approach and method as has been handed down to us by our predecessors of the past century, beginning with the great, wise Leo XIII. Almost as a personification of the Gospel character of the wise scribe, who, like the father of a family, "knows how to bring both new and old things out of his treasure-house," (Mt 13,52) in a stately manner he assumed his function as teacher of the world by making the object of his richest instruction the problems of our time considered in the light of the Word of Christ.

Thus, also, did his successors, as you well know.

68 Did not our predecessors, especially Pope Pius XI and Pope Pius XII, leave us a magnificently rich patrimony of teaching which was conceived in the loving and enlightened attempt to join divine to human wisdom, not considered in the abstract, but rather expressed in the concrete language of modern man? And what is this apostolic endeavor if not a dialogue? And did not John XXIII, our immediate predecessor of venerable memory, place an even sharper emphasis on its teaching in the sense of approaching as close as possible to the experience and the understanding of the contemporary world? And was not the Council itself assigned--and justly so--a pastoral function which would be completely focused on the injection of the Christian message into the stream of the thought, of the speech, of the culture, of the customs, of the strivings of man as he lives today and acts in this life? Even before converting the world, nay, in order to convert it, we must meet the world and take to it.

69 Concerning our lowly self, although we are reluctant to speak of it and would prefer not to attract to it the attention of others, we cannot pass over in silence, in this deliberate communication to the Episcopal Hierarchy and to the Christian people our resolution to persevere, so far as our weak energies will permit and, above all, as far as the grace of God will grant us the necessary means, in the same direction and in the same effort to approach the world in which Providence has destined us to live, with all due reverence to be observed in this approach, and with all due solicitude and love, in order that we may understand it and offer it the gifts of truth and of grace of which Christ has made us custodians in order that we may communicate to the world our wonderful destiny of redemption and of hope. Deeply engraved on our heart are those words of Christ which we would humbly but resolutely make our own: "When God sent His Son into the world, it was not to reject the world, but so that the world might find salvation through Him." (Jn 3,17)

70 See, then, Venerable Brethren, the transcendent origin of the dialogue. It is found in the very plan of God. Religion, of its very nature, is a relationship between God and man. Prayer expresses such a relationship of dialogue, Revelation, i.e., the supernatural relationship which God Himself, on His own initiative, has established with the human race, can be represented as a dialogue in which the Word of God is expressed in the Incarnation and therefore in the Gospel.

The fatherly and holy conversation between God and man, interrupted by original sin, has been marvelously resumed in the course of history. The history of salvation narrates exactly this long and changing dialogue which begins with God and brings to man a many-splendored conversation. It is in this conversation of Christ among men (Cf.
Ba 3,38) that God allows us to understand something of Himself, the mystery of His life, unique in its essence, trinitarian in his persons; and He wishes to be honored and served by us: Love is our supreme commandment. The dialogue thus takes on full meaning and offers grounds for confidence. The child is invited to it; the mystic finds a full outlet in it.

Ecclesiam suam EN 41